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Factors that affect performance in SSCE English among Nigerian students

  • English Language plays a vital role in the Nigerian education system from primary to higher institutions. It is the official language of the country, and it is used as the medium of instruction. Suffice to say, English proficiency is an essential factor in educational achievement. All secondary school students moving to colleges and universities are required to pass English at a minimum of credit level in addition to mathematics and other subjects related to their chosen disciplines. In spite of this requirement, performance in English senior school certificate examination (SSCE) has continued to dwindle with many factors responsible for the situation. Also, it is believed that the poor performance in the language has a tremendous effect on the performance in other subject areas.

    Indeed, it is discouraging to note that the poor performance of Nigeria students in the English language at senior secondary school examination has been explained as a major cause of the decline in the general academic achievement and standard of education in Nigeria. The common belief is that having an obstacle in understanding the concepts and contents of the various subjects of the school courses taught in target language seems to be one of the most critical issues that English as a primary language students face in their specific course of study. This can be due to their weaknesses in the English language which can have negative consequences on their general performance.

    There are many reasons for poor performance in the English language among Nigeria senior secondary school students. These include the followings:

    1. The dominance of native language

    The dominance of the native language is considered one of the causes of poor performance in the English Language. Nigerian students are surrounded by a complex language situation. They naturally learn their mother tongue in addition to 2 – 3 three surrounding languages, and they are required to be proficient enough in the English language, too. The Nigerian policy on education mandates the adoption of the native language of the community for instruction at the pre-primary and first three years of primary school. English is to be used in the subsequent years of the primary school.  In other words, the policy suggests the use of native language in teaching at the primary level. This situation contributed significantly to the non-use of the English language at an early age. Students generally use their native language in all their interactions and even in the senior primary school, English is only used in the classrooms and stops there. Though there other arguments, equally educational, why children should not be denied proficiency in their mother tongue.

    2. Insufficient qualified English language teachers

    Lack of enough qualified English teachers in most schools also contributes to the poor performance in the English language in our secondary schools. Due to the above-mentioned cause, in some schools, other subject teachers are forced to teach the English language and those who even teach it demonstrate poor abilities in a written and oral expression of it. Therefore, with this, these teachers can never teach properly and lead to poor performances from their products. Poorly trained English teachers were employed to teach and ready the secondary school students for the Senior School Certificate Examinations in the English language. This situation contributed immensely to poor performance in the English language among Nigeria secondary school students.

    3. Inadequate infrastructure and instructional media

    Lack of instructional facilities is regarded as another cause of poor performance in the English language in our secondary schools. Instructional materials and facilities are essential parts of the process of learning as they provide practice and feedback in learning track. In our present-day secondary schools, mainly public schools, students are seeing sitting on the floor and windows to receive lessons. And in some cases, they are living under trees or living in the old classroom. Even where it appears to have enough classes, they are overcrowded, and there are no language laboratories.

    All these cannot ensure proper learning of the English language and hence poor performance in other subjects. Effective Teaching and learning take place only in relatively smaller classes. But the present-day Nigerian class is indeed overpopulated with an average of 80 – 120.  

    Also, in the area of instructional resources or media, the teaching of English in Nigeria is dominated by the use of textbooks, dictionaries and generally traditional approaches. Modern media such as audio, videotapes, language laboratories, programmed texts, flashcards; computers, magazines, and newspapers are rarely used.

    Related article: Are computers in the classroom overrated?

    4. Teachers’ attitude toward innovation

    Another critical factor behind the poor performance of English language in Nigerian secondary is the manner teachers approach creativity and innovation, particularly the adoption of new technologies. Most teachers do not recognise the dynamic nature of the English curriculum; they continue to bore students with definitions and drills in grammar, vocabulary and speech work. The traditional content/knowledge-oriented teaching continues to be significantly practised by them. Some teachers mostly prefer to use old methods which they have been familiar with or as they were taught, that don't necessarily aid proper learning.

    5. Students’ negative attitude towards learning

    Another important cause of poor performance in the English language is the negative attitude of students toward the learning of the English language. Secondary school students, generally have negative attitudes toward learning the language partly due to their belief that it’s just a foreign language. This perception is influenced by anti-colonial ideas that continuing to attach so much importance to English may amount to another form of colonialism.

    Therefore, it is clear that dominance of mother tongue in Nigeria classrooms, inadequately qualified teachers in our secondary schools, inadequate infrastructural facilities, and poor attitude of teachers toward innovation and use of instructional media or materials in teaching the English language, and teachers’ inability to use proper teaching methods contributes to poor learning and understanding of English language among Nigeria secondary school students.

    How then can this situation be improved? There are many ways to improve the English language performance of Nigeria secondary school students. These are:

    1. Authorities should provide, in addition to conducive classrooms, enough instructional materials, including new technologies. They should also employ qualified teachers.
    2. Teachers should devise ways through which they can help the students to enhance their learning, speech and their listening skills. Under this are:
    3. Students should be taught correct pronunciation to reduce the influence of mother tongues and improve their performance in an oral English test.
    4. Modern facilities and instructional materials should be used effectively in class to improve learning.
    5. Existing teachers should be encouraged to attend professional development courses continually, seminars and workshops to update their knowledge and skills in both content and methodology.
    6. Students should be encouraged to communicate in the English language in and outside the classroom.
    7. Secondary schools should be equipped with language laboratories, and teachers of English should be encouraged to maximise the use of all the facilities provided.

    There are many strategies to follow to improve the teaching of English in secondary schools; sometimes it depends on the environment where the school is located. Often schools in cities do not face the same challenges schools in villages face. Click here here to see how location and other factors impact variation in Nigerian secondary and primary schools.

    In conclusion, the challenges of teaching English and the factors that cause poor performance in the subject amongst secondary school students are many, and from all indications, the situation can only be approached collectively with the government, the school administration, parents and the students – each sector playing its indispensable role in the gigantic task.

    You may also want to read: The imperative of parental participation in education

    Photo credit: Rogan Ward/Sunday Times

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